A Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Bishops of Uganda to all Catholics and People of Goodwill in Uganda
Once the rights of wives or husbands or children are violated, domestic violence occurs. Violation of political and civil rights often turns into armed conflicts and instability. Violation of citizens’ economic rights, especially through corruption, leaves society bewildered and unpeaceful in mind.
Such is the lesson we should have learnt, through bitter struggles in our country during the past 36 years of independence. Peace demands respect for the self-determination, territorial integrity and sovereignty of each nation. Peace demands just laws which are equally applied to each and everyone. Peace demands full recognition of equality of every person and non-discrimination against any person. Peace requires a life of ethical principles and integrity among leaders and members of society. Peace can only be built on proper attitudes and strategies for peaceful co-existence and peaceful resolution of any conflict.
Why has peace eluded us for so long? How is it that after the many years of war, conflicts, instability and the sufferings therein, we have allowed armed conflicts to continue in parts of our nation? How is it that as a nation we seem to have failed to resolve our conflicts peacefully? Have we no wisdom and the correct approach to bring about peace in all parts of the nation? Do we feel we have done all that is possible to make peace? Can we allow ourselves to become pessimists that peace can never come?
As religious leaders of the catholic church in Uganda and moral teachers in our nation, we discern with dismay and apprehension the suffering endured by so many Ugandans because of those prolonged armed conflicts. We are extremely worried by the danger which threatens our entire region with war. We consider it our religious, moral and ethical duty to raise our voices and warn everybody concerned to beware lest we be consumed by the flames of war.
We stand for peace in all parts of our country and in the region. We call upon everyone to peace. We believe peace is a gift from God to people who desire and are prepared to work for and defend peace. Peace is a basic Christian value preached by our founder, Jesus Christ and insisted on by his Church. Peace is an essential pre-requisite in building nations and relationships among peoples and individuals. Peace is the great value every nation and people must cherish, work for and guarantee. Every human being is called by God to be a peacemaker. Leaders of nations have a primary responsibility of protecting and promoting peace, stability and security for all their citizens in every part of their nations. We believe strongly that the most powerful means of bringing peace about where it is absent is through extensive use of all the peaceful means available. We believe that we all need a change of heart from selfishness to genuine interests and well-being of others.
We believe that peace is possible in all parts of our nation and in the region, if, we, the citizens and the leaders put all our energy, mind, work on peace, beginning with those areas where peace is absent. With wars, small and big, going on in our nation and region for a long time, we run the risk of getting used to them. Time may come when many will no longer be aware of what is right and what is wrong.
It is important to re-state what followers of all religions believe: ‘You shall not kill’. Every person is created in the image and likeness of God. Every human person is dear to God. For this reason, every human person has inherent rights, centred on the right to life. These ought to be respected by everyone. Once respect for the human person, his or her dignity and equality is done, wars and conflicts may one day become memories of the past.
We believe peace is possible because wars are people-made. Once people decide for peace, and acquire attitudes of peace, tolerance and reconciliation, wars will be no more. Peace is possible because we have faculties of reason for discussion, negotiation, mutual acceptance and principled compromise.
Peace is possible because the majority of people are for it. Once this majority becomes united to work for peace and each one does what he or she can, peace will be achieved. We have, therefore, Christian optimism that peace is not only possible but will come to all parts of Uganda once we all become committed to it.
For a follower of Christ there is no place for despair where war seems to be defeating peace, where evil is battling to defeat what is good, right and godly. A feeling of helplessness and hopelessness among many who have witnessed war for 12 years should not be entertained. It is at moments such as those that God’s power should be most trusted and prayed for to break the deadlocks and bring about the true peace we are searching for. Call to renewed efforts at peace-making.
We call, once again, upon our government, the leaders of our nation, and all the groups fighting government and the people of Uganda to heed the cries of the people and give peace a real chance. Many efforts tried in the past have failed. We need to examine why they have failed and plan new efforts. We call upon all followers of Christ and all Ugandans of goodwill to play a leading part in peace-making, using all the skills, contacts and strategies at their disposal for this noble cause. We commit ourselves to this cause of peace and manifest our willingness to play any part desirable for the attainment of peace.
During this Christmastide and throughout the new year, we should pray more earnestly that God touches the hearts of those responsible for these armed conflicts and those in positions which can cause peace to come, to do whatever is possible to see peace reign in all parts of Uganda. Our thoughts in 1999, the year of our loving Father, should center on peace in our hearts, families, communities and the entire country and region.
To all people of God in Uganda who suffer due to war in Gulu, Kitgum, Lira, Kasese, Bundibugyo and Kabarole districts and on the borders of Congo, we wish to express our heartfelt sympathy. Never think for a moment that you are not dear to our hearts. Never think we ever forget you in your sufferings. We pray for you always. We know what you are going through. We know what you have lost and are still losing, beginning from your dear ones to property. Our consolation can never be sufficient. We call upon God, to be with you, to show you how much He still loves and cares for you. Continue to trust Him and cooperate with Him in the search for peace. We call on all our fellow Christians and people of goodwill to show generosity, through donation of the necessary items for life, to all those who suffer.